Developing meaningful connections with customers not only enables deeper personalization, it also translates to increased loyalty and often higher-order spends per visit.

Humans crave connection. We’re hardwired for it. But the fact of the matter is, fostering real, genuine connections is particularly challenging in brand-to-customer relationships.

Why? Connection is based on shared authentic and relevant experiences. To create that requires asking the right questions and actually listening. Naturally, genuine connection is easier to create when done face-to-face or one-to-one, but for most businesses, that’s not a scalable approach. For fast casual and quick-serve restaurants, where customers have shifted significantly to online and mobile ordering, it’s become near impossible.

In those cases, we have to leverage the next best thing: digital tools.

The role of personalization in connection

Personalization is a critical part of creating genuine, authentic connections –– and it has become an equally important part of the modern-day customer experience. And while most brands fundamentally understand this, actually achieving it is another story.

For instance, according to a post-pandemic survey by Salesforce, more than two-thirds of consumers expect brands to understand their unique needs and expectations. More than 90 percent base repeat purchase decisions on a great customer experience, but only one-third say brands actually do a good job delivering personalization.

Why does this gap exist? Because while personalization and genuine connection may be simple in theory, it’s incredibly complex to execute at scale.

Consumer expectation of what truly constitutes personalization has also evolved thanks to how global brand leaders like Amazon and Netflix are using big data and AI to deliver personalization on demand and at a massive scale. Even Nordstrom, a brand known for its impeccable customer experience, has started to utilize technology to move from a one-to-one approach to a one-to-many without compromising on creating touchpoints that feel highly relevant and designed for the individual customer.

Most recently, they experimented with this for their annual anniversary sale. Hundreds of thousands of top customers received personalized digital catalogs containing relevant content and product recommendations specific to the individual. 

And that’s the level of personalization that builds and fosters loyalty and repeat business. Broadcasting the same message to an audience segment or relying on the basic ‘if-this-then-that’ logic that has been the norm for two decades in digital and mobile marketing is no longer enough.

Exchanging personal data for connection

Customers realize this level of personalization comes with a price, but it’s one they’re willing to pay. According to a report by PSFK, 84 percent of consumers said they trust restaurants with their personal data if it translates to a better, more personalized experience. And nearly 80 percent said they want personalized menu recommendations based on order history, time of day, climate, etc.

Privy to this, quick-serve giants like McDonalds, Starbucks, Chipotle, just to name a few, have made major investments into delivering more personalized and connected experiences across their mobile apps, self-serve kiosks, and digital signage.   

While this level of personalization may seem out of reach for all but the biggest multinational brands, advances in mobile technology, machine learning and AI are actually making it more accessible and affordable than ever before.

Most restaurants already have the insight they need and now there are a variety of tools to automate and easily scale the personalization process. Where do you look for this insight?

Point-of-sale (POS) systems, customer relationship management (CRM) systems and loyalty programs, and even email marketing platforms all provide a wealth of customer data that can be used to deliver more connected experiences. The best part is, this is information they’ve opted in to share.

Putting the data to work

Where the rubber meets the road is using this insight to deliver highly relevant experiences designed for that customer where they are –– and increasingly, that is on their mobile devices.

A recent report by Bluedot found 86 percent of respondents surveyed said they have ordered directly from a restaurant app since the start of the pandemic, and eight out of 10 of those consumers said they plan to maintain these newly adopted dining habits. The State of Mobile 2021 report by App Annie also found mobile orders of food and food delivery in the US have grown more than 105% in the past year.

Indeed, consumers have spoken and it appears mobile is the future. So, how do you deliver personalized experiences efficiently, at scale, and in a mobile environment? In short, through proximity engagement. 

Proximity engagement is a mobile marketing technology that follows the principles of behavior design. In short, a person is most likely to perform a behavior when their motivation and ability to do so are most closely aligned.  Proximity engagement operationalizes the principles of behavior design by analyzing opt-in behavioral and location data from your customers’ mobile devices along with other data from your POS system, loyalty platform, or CRM to identify those moments of alignment.

Proximity engagement allows restaurants to automate the delivery of hyper-personalized messages and offers through mobile apps at exactly the right moment and in precisely the right place in which each customer will be most likely to respond and convert.

In-app messages can range from something as simple as a coupon for the customer’s favorite lunch item that is sent when they’re nearby, to more complex push notifications promoting a free cup of soup to pair with their favorite sandwich on a cold, rainy day.

Luckily, mobile and proximity engagement technology now takes care of the heavy lifting on the personalization process and it has become infinitely flexible.

The bottom line is, developing meaningful connections with customers not only enables deeper personalization, it also translates to increased loyalty and often higher-order spends per visit. Restaurants can no longer ignore the customer demand for designed experiences and variety when it comes to ordering and dining options. Mobile apps and proximity engagement are quickly becoming table stakes.

Big brands like McDonalds, Starbucks, and Chipotle already know this. Don’t get left behind.

Andrew Steele is the CEO of LighthousePE, a proximity engagement platform, where he spearheads the overall strategic vision and operations, and oversees the portfolio of digital products and proprietary AI technology.

Expert Takes, Feature, Technology